In 2023 I probably shouldn’t need to opine about the cultural impact of one Justin K Broadrick on heavy music, but for the sake of setting the scene for this review, it is worth revisiting the achievements of someone who has rightfully become an icon in the field of the extreme. Famously recording as part of the original Scum line-up of Napalm Death and departing the band by the time he was 16, his resume is filtered with names such as Head Of David, Scorn and Greymachine to name but a few.
However, it was with the nightmarish industrial monster Godflesh, co-founded with childhood friend G.C. Green, that he seared his stamp across multiple genres during their initial run from 1988 to 2002 with the likes of Streetcleaner and Pure becoming, not just certified classics, but defining moments in history.
After that ferocious period, he founded the ambient drone-led experimentation of Jesu and stepping outside of that has produced a relentless schedule of electronic projects such as Pale Sketcher, JK Flesh and Techno Animal. Which barely scratches the surface of the man’s incredible work ethic.
Thankfully the band were reborn with the Decline And Fall EP and the brutal instant classic A World Lit Only By Fire in 2014. Coming three years later, the daunting Post Self album may have caught some of the faithful off guard as the duo sought to combine the Cro-Magnon thump of Godflesh’s primary building blocks with the more detached, nascent, shoegaze-esque levels of suffocation, but it stood head and shoulders above anything else people were doing at the time with their complete refusal to be trapped in a circle (of shit) that would see them re-treading the same ground.
And so, to the present and the latest salvo from the twisted minds of Broadrick and Green, Purge. On the surface billed as a revisit and update on the themes explored on the 1992 album Pure, the band call back in time to the grinding primitive riffs and ‘90s hip-hop beats, feeding them through the industrial thresher to channel a lifetime of ‘feeling misunderstood and overwhelmed by hypersensitivity’ and articulate frustration and anger at the modern world.
Muted trip-hop sets the tone at the opening before the familiar bad trip danceable nightmare of Nero crashes in. The music recycles like a skipping record and Broadrick’s feral bark stabs and growls over jitters of high hat and terrifying grooves. This has the distinctive Godflesh sound and does invoke that Pure spirit, but this is no re-tread as the loose twang of the bass pulses and swoops in a dizzying fashion; here the themes are infused with fresh vitriol.
Land Lord channels drum and bass like the herald of an oncoming storm. Ever the granular sonic surgeons, the duo tinker with tonal shifts to create chaos, fusing more urgent drone reverberations and using minor vocal pitch variations to add light and considerably more shade. There are moments that remind you of Mothra through the buzzsaw of guitars, and an air reminiscent of the mid-90s White Zombie commercialism they inspired. If of course you weren’t being dragged to hell by Godflesh instead.
Ever the granular sonic surgeons, the duo tinker with tonal shifts to create chaos…
The greasy bass of Army Of Non brings the pace back down and revives the slamming hip-hop samples before the nagging string bends and crisp military drums of Lazarus Leper seek to deconstruct the platform they have built and refine the architecture once more. Here the Killing Joke influences collide with early Swans and Throbbing Gristle as the guttural intonations roar as they strip back the instrumentation, rebuild and change. The glitching sparsity of the track follows the Jesu motif of doing much with little movement and it is a skill that Broadrick has turned into an art form.
Clean-sounding guitar ushers in the manic drum shuffle of Permission and the vocal switches to that haunting, lamenting mournful style that forms the comedown from the harsh anger of the primitive savagery that the band have stamped their trademark on. The pulsing loops and post-punk frantic beats show the blueprint they laid down long ago and was admirably picked up by the likes of Pitchshifter as they enter almost remix-sounding territory. Once again, the vocal snarls are driven by subtle chord progressions that shift the landscape subconsciously.
The electronic swirling, part Vangelis, part Jesu introduces The Father before the hard stamp and double tap of the drums shatter the calm. Once again, the juxtaposition of the otherworldly, sombre cries of the vocals clashes with the machinery as it starts to cycle up and there is a weary sense of corroding and systems struggling as they break down.
This strangled psychedelia is minimalistic and unsettling in its moments of droning stillness which allows the mission creep of other projects to bloom, fade and push Purge into further uncharted territories in a similar manner to the second half of Post Self.
Of the last two tracks, Mythology Of Self is classic Godflesh; Heavy as a really heavy thing, this raging, clanking, crunch marches slowly and full of menace before the mouthful You Are The Judge, Jury And The Executioner ends the album in a hypnotic, sprawling fashion. Slow as a river of treacle, the track revolves around the tonal changes in the loose guitar sounds and a singular hook that nags at your brain. Green’s bass is so rich, so seedy and yet so monstrously crushing it feels like it has its own gravitational pull.
It is hard to judge at this moment in time where Purge would sit in the canon of Godflesh albums and that’s probably an irrelevant question. This album seeks to filter the past through the prism of the present, informed by countless other projects and yet remaining true to the original vision. Broadrick returned to Godflesh because it was necessary, it is therapy and the psych mauling they visit on the listener may not always be comfortable, but it is vital.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden